Friday, March 16, 2018

Smarketing: Funny Name, Serious Benefits

By: Brian Mamo

If I asked you to think of the two best things ever put together, you might immediately think of pairings such as peanut butter and jelly, biscuits and gravy, or fish and chips. But what combination really surpasses all others? Smarketing.

Smarketing is the term used to describe an integrated sales and marketing team that effectively works together in a harmonious fashion. It has a funny sounding name, but when Smarketing is in full effect, the impact is serious.

Smarketing may not seem as ground-breaking as fish and chips on the surface, but consider this: Are your company’s sales and marketing teams rarely on the same page? This could be detrimental to your organization as it is nearly impossible to increase revenue and expand your client base when these departments are not integrated. Revenue and client growth can only happen when both teams work together toward shared goals that benefit the entire company.

Once a company acknowledges the importance of this partnership, they can start working on making improvements in their planning. This process might begin with asking the question, how can both teams work together more efficiently? The answer lies in communication. Tear down the silos! If your company is fortunate enough to have a sales and marketing team, it could benefit your team and your company to open up communication and discuss the following topics. Or, if you make up the entire sales and marketing team, then have this conversation with yourself (just make sure no one else is around to witness you talking to yourself).
  1. Understand what a perfect client looks like. Where are they located? Which industries are they in? How are their decisions made? Who makes the decisions, and what are the most common objections?  Have the sales and marketing teams work together to determine what the perfect client looks like, get a list together and determine who your top 100 prospective clients are.  
  2. Sales Team: Show the Marketing folks what the sales funnel looks like. How many touches (any time a prospective client sees your name) does it take for a client to agree to a meeting? How many meetings does it take to provide a proposal? How many proposals does it take to get a sale?  After you do the math (see, you thought you would never use algebra in your sales career), the marketing team will know exactly how many touches it will need to make in order to hit the sales goals of the company. Hopefully by going through this exercise, efficiencies and bottlenecks will be identified.  Now you are getting somewhere...
  3. Get together and discuss what and how frequent these touches should be.  Examples of touches are phone calls, educational blogs, emails, LinkedIn connections, educational events and postcards. Both teams should work to determine the frequency of touches. With an established, consistent plan for implementing touches in place, potential clients will be made more aware of your services for when the need eventually rises (also referred to as drip marketing). 
  4. Build a robust website. It is up to the marketing department to make sure prospective clients have positive experiences with your branding and website. Beyond having an initial touch, prospective clients will look at your website and determine if they want to meet with your sales team based on what should be a professional, educational, easy to navigate and inspiring website.
  5. Have a story. Why choose your company over the competition?  Let prospective clients know why they should work with you. Leave out phrases like "we have the best people, best product/service and best on-time delivery." These characteristics should be assumed about your company, as you wouldn’t still be in business if you didn’t offer good service. Ask your employees to think of a few important elements to add to your story, and share it with your friends, family and business confidants to test its effectiveness.
With all of this integrated communication and work in place, there is no reason your company shouldn’t succeed in reaching prospective clients, getting leads and staying competitive. Contact The Center today to help get your sales and marketing teams working together even better than peanut butter and jelly.

Brian Mamo
Senior Business Solutions Manager

Brian Mamo is a Senior Business Solutions Manager at The Center. In his role, Brian works directly with manufacturers in Macomb County, providing services and support that enable them to compete, grow and prosper. Brian has more than 25 years of experience as a trusted advisor to hundreds of clients in several industries including the manufacturing, industrial, medical and service industries. Prior to joining The Center, Brian spent the past seven years as Director of Business Development and member of the Executive Team of a facility maintenance company. In addition to managing the sales team, Brian worked to redesign the company’s sales and marketing plan while streamlining the sales and operations delivery process.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, March 9, 2018

Want Big Data? Start Small with Your ERP

By: George Singos

The process of embracing new technology continues to confuse and discourage many small and medium-sized manufacturers. Although there is no established protocol in place for how to successfully transition to utilizing such technologies, the first step for all manufacturers is to understand the needs of their business (read more about this here). With this in place, along with a few of the right tools, this journey can become simpler, cheaper and even exciting. But what kinds of tools are necessary for this?

Much like how a car is needed to travel long distances, an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is needed to support company initiatives. While most companies have ERP systems in place, many fail to realize their full potential. They do not understand that such systems can support operations that involve automation and data to drive performance and profitability. Additionally, these systems can integrate with a wide variety of automated equipment and sensors to better manage operations. If used correctly, your ERP system can help your company join the factories of the future.

The Data is Out There. Use It.
It is worth noting that having the right tools in place, such as a strong ERP system, can be useless if the data it provides is not measured and analyzed. Your company could have the most expensive, effective sensor on the market, but it won’t improve your operations unless you fully utilize the data it provides to you. Mastering this step can boost your company’s competitive advantage, help you better manage your operations and increase overall profitability. Although there are endless ways to use big data to improve your business, here are a few essential things you can and should be doing with your data to begin tapping its potential:
  • Monitor and report on your efficiency. This may sound obvious, but many companies fail to track the efficiency of their facilities. To measure this, we typically start with establishing how often the equipment in a given facility is running (producing parts). For example, if a shop is opened 2,080 hours a year, how many hours is the equipment actually making parts per line/cell? Gathering and analyzing this data could help you discover a few important areas of improvement:
    • Is your equipment breaking down too much?
    • Are your set-ups available at the end of a run for the next job?
    • Are you sufficiently staffed and/or do you have a flexible workforce?
  • Track standard costing/variance. Many companies have the ability to compare the estimate and subsequent (i.e., bill of materials) with the actual costs during and after the production run, but they do not always invest time in tracking it. This should be made a priority due to the numerous benefits it can bring your company, such as:
    • Answer the question of, are you operating according to the established standard? If not, your efficiencies and process compliance may be out of control. This typically can be found by looking at the estimated gross margin versus actual gross margin (which, more often than not, is lower).
    • Discover if your estimates are accurate. Even at your best, you might not be meeting the standards set by the estimation department. Many times we see this when outdated estimation labor costs and material are used.
    • Track your scrap properly. Lack of proper scrap tracking appears when ‘bad’ product is returned to inventory, assuming it will be used someday (hint: it won’t), or when the incorrect standard volume of material is used in production.
  • Know your part family/product line profitability. When used properly, your ERP should have the ability to group similar parts together and establish profitability levels by category. An example of where you can use this information is if you have five product lines and one of the families has lower profitability than the others. Your ERP system can provide information to help the sales team quote the products that you are more efficient in producing. This same information can be used to prioritize a continuous improvement plan that can help identify which areas to focus on for future changes.
With basic practices such as these in place, your company will be on the right track to finding success in existing and future technologies.

Lead the Way to the Future
As these technologies and ideas are still so fresh, most manufacturers are only in the beginning stages of transitioning to a modern form of data acquisition. In this era of uncertainty, you may be asking yourself, is my company staying competitive in this changing market? To help answer this, The Center has developed a free Transformation Planner for manufacturers to use, which can determine how effectively your company is performing compared to competitors in the market. You might find you still have a long way to go on your journey to the top, or perhaps you are already leading the way to the factory of tomorrow.

George Singos
Business Leader Advisor

George Singos is the Business Leader Advisor for the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. He has accumulated more than 30 years of manufacturing experience in Business Development, Sales & Marketing Management, Project Planning, Quality Management, Costing and Scheduling. Prior to joining The Center, George worked in International Business Development, where his primary focus was growing International Sales in Europe and East Asia while supporting North American, South American and ASEAN operations.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, March 2, 2018

114 Resources to Power Your Business

By: Jeff Schultz

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power,” and that’s as true today as ever. Thanks to technology, we have unprecedented access to information, to the point where “Google” has become a verb. Need the answer to just about anything? Google it.

This access creates a wide range of opportunities to improve decision-making in many areas of manufacturing, including improved business processes and operations, predictive maintenance, competitive intelligence, sales forecasting, and on and on.

The bottom line is that if we know where the money is going, what processes are the most efficient (or inefficient) or where there are opportunities for growth, we can manage the business from an informed position of strength rather than guessing or gut reactions.

The technological advances related to digitization clearly offer even small manufacturers beneficial data and insights, but that’s a topic that deserves its own blog post (coming soon!).

Recently, we came across an incredibly comprehensive and valuable set of resources for manufacturers. This list was compiled by Stacy Crawley, who handles sales and marketing for Novo Solutions, a provider of highly flexible, web and mobile information management software. Stacy organized 111 websites into eight categories, including:
  • Associations, Organizations, & Sites
  • Publications & Have-it-All Websites
  • Blogs to Subscribe (we’re honored to be included here)
  • Workforce Challenges & Education
  • Forms, Tips, Calculators, and Tools
  • Books/Guides/Manuals/Resources
  • Best Practices & Benchmarking
  • Compliance, Standards, Safety
You can view the resources here, and you will want to bookmark the page for future reference.

Another approach is in-depth or customized research conducted by a third party that is very specific to your organization. As an example, The Center’s Research Services team has access to a variety of private data sources that enable Michigan manufacturers to answer critical questions, implement data-driven tactics and make strategic business decisions. In this case, there are three key areas:  Market research, competitive intelligence and supplier scouting.

Market research has come a long way from being something only large corporations with big budgets could undertake. Today, market research is an organized effort and systematic approach to collect and interpret information about business and industry environments, customers and competitors for the purposes of decision-making.

For many companies, competitive intelligence is needed now more than ever due to rapidly changing technology and the nature of manufacturing in general. This business-specific process involves aggregating information from industry reports, news and trade media, company profiles, government statistics, and other resources to create an accurate portrait of the competitive landscape.

Manufacturers seeking to improve or expand their supply chains increasingly are turning to supplier scouting as a way to connect to companies that offer a tailor-fit solution. With support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), we have access to a unique set of databases and the ability to leverage our statewide network of experts to construct a prioritized list of Michigan companies that match the request of manufacturers of all sizes and all stages of growth.

Clearly, there is no shortage of data that can benefit today’s manufacturer, regardless of size or specialty. The companies that tap into these readily available resources will be those that are better positioned to compete, grow and prosper in an ever-changing environment in the days ahead.

To learn more about our Research Services, visit:

Jeff Schultz
Marketing Manager

Jeff joined the marketing and communications team at The Center in 2016. With more than 20 years of experience, he is responsible for managing the marketing team and ensuring the successful completion of strategic communication initiatives. Jeff started his career with three prominent public relations firms before transitioning to a corporate communications role prior to The Center. Jeff earned his BA in English and Communication from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, February 23, 2018

Anyone Can Satisfy a Customer. But Can You Delight Them?

By: John Spillson

We’ve been conditioned to desire complete and utter satisfaction in everything we receive.  But why should we be content with being only satisfied? Satisfaction is merely accepting the minimum to meet a desired requirement. It would be even better if we could take it up a notch and truly delight our customers, whether they are buying cars, clothing, food, or anything in between. Before we can accomplish this, however, we first need to make sure we have all the right ingredients in place to create a delightful product. 

The Road to Delight
1. Know your customer. First you must answer the question of, who is your customer? Is the customer the individual who consumes your product last?  Is it the store that has purchased your product to put on its shelves?  Is it the distributor that purchased your product for resale? Or could it be the co-worker (or machine) next to you waiting for you to finish your work before they can continue the job?  Too often we fail to recognize that the customer is right next to us. Once you understand who the customer is, you can then determine what you must provide to them to ensure they are delighted, whether they are an end-user or co-worker.

2. Communicate effectively. Lack of communication at any level often leads to diminished results. Do you have a clear understanding of the customer’s needs and are able to fulfill them the first time, every time?  A 90% success rate is not good enough if you are part of the 10% that doesn’t receive what is promised or expected. Adding value and providing exactly what the customer wants, when they want it, pushes past the line of satisfaction and into true customer delight. In this step, it is important to be careful not to over-deliver or waste time and resources on ‘extra processing’ that the customer hasn’t requested or is not willing to pay for.

3. Find the right balance between quality, price and delivery time. A famous saying in the manufacturing world is, “You can have good quality, a good price or quick service, but you can only have two of these.” Why is this? There seems to be a consistent trade-off between these three variables to where if you want something of high quality you must to sacrifice price or timely delivery, or if you want something quickly you must settle for a less quality item, etc. However, in this current industry environment, we should be able to demand all three. Lean strategies, combined with best practices and standard work, can lead to this becoming a reality. Which brings us to number 4…

4. Get Lean. Lean and the world of continuous improvement can help bridge the gap between expectations, satisfaction and customer delight. Henry Ford’s desire to reduce the time taken to produce a product was revolutionary when introduced more than 100 years ago. He recognized that the longer a product took to be produced, the higher the cost involved- and he wanted to do something about it. Henry Ford was on the leading edge of understanding the true benefits that Lean process improvements could bring. Utilizing standard work and single piece flow on the assembly line, he was able to successfully reduce the time it took to produce a final product, while consistently giving the customer a quality product, with a reasonable delivery time, at an affordable price.

When implementing Lean principles, the initial step is usually to complete a process map, which provides a detailed look at the process. Any process. As Lean guru Dr. Deming said, “If you can’t describe what you do as a process then you don’t know what you’re doing.” In developing a detailed process map, each step is laid out to analyze and it becomes easier to identify deficiencies and areas of improvement. This starts the journey toward making corrections, perfecting processes and ultimately delighting customers. Giving the customer exactly what they want, when they want it and at a reasonable cost every time is a realistic and achievable goal when using the right Lean tools.

Satisfaction used to be considered the ultimate goal, but we should strive to go further. In reality, customers rarely tell their friends to try product X because it gave them satisfactory results. I wouldn’t either. I would much rather find a product that pushes past satisfaction into true customer delight.

Does Your Food Pass the (Taste) Test?
These lessons are especially important for manufacturers working in the food industry. It might not be noticeable if a shirt is made with sub-par quality, but customers will immediately know if their food is less than satisfactory. Although all manufacturers should strive to delight, the stakes are raised for food processors.

To gain more insights about how to improve your food manufacturing processes with advice directly from leaders in the industry, come to the 5th Annual Pure Michigan Agricultural Summit on March 14.  The Center also will be taking part in this exclusive event, which makes 35 of Michigan’s most influential food buyers available through pre-scheduled appointment. Several speakers from the Michigan Department of Agriculture as well as Michigan State University will headline the event, discussing the latest trends and innovations in the food industry.

Stop by our table and speak with one of our experienced, passionate professionals to learn more about what The Center has to offer.  From A3 Problem Solving to Website Optimization, The Center has a way to bring sheer delight to your customers through our many customized programs.

John Spillson
Food Business Development Manager

John works to develop and expand the food program at The Center. His experience operating his own business has given him knowledge in production, sales, food safety, marketing, warehousing and logistics. John comes from a long line of entrepreneurs, following both parents and grandparents in operating their own family food businesses. Prior to joining The Center, John owned and operated his own food processing company for more than 20 years. He loves helping food processors almost as much as he loves food itself.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Super Bowl of Manufacturing: Are You Built to Win?

By: Jamie Headley

Whether you are a New England Patriots fan or not, there is no denying they are consistently one of the best performing NFL teams. In fact, they have played in more Super Bowl games than any other team in the league, with a total of 10 games played and five won. But how do they keep up their winning streak? Many people attribute it to them being “built to win.”

What does it mean to be “built to win”? It all comes down to strategy. The Patriots have earned a reputation as being one of the best football teams of our time by having a solid strategy in place, supported by exceptional tactical execution. They win because they have found the perfect balance between strategic and tactical planning.

The Road to Winning
There is a hierarchy to this type of planning that allows companies to be proactive and in control of their overall destiny, rather than reactive to the market or customer demands. Achieving this type of control begins with establishing a clear Mission Statement. The Mission Statement should be a realistic, high-level description of what is important to the company. This lays the foundation for the business.

The company’s sales and operations plan, or business plan, follows the Mission Statement, which is essentially the high-level objectives the company seeks to achieve in support of the Mission Statement. This might include goals such as wanting to increase sales 10%, reduce costs or enter a new market. Once these plans are in place the tactical plan comes into play, which lays out how your company will achieve the goals of the Business Plan. It is absolutely essential to perform these tasks in this order to ensure all high-level goals form the basis of business plans and tactical decisions. This process looks a little like this:

Order is Everything: Why Tactical Must Come Last
A common situation (mistake) I see among companies is that executives generate lists of tactical objectives to immediately accomplish, rather than starting with a strong strategic plan. Although it can benefit a company to accomplish such goals, doing so without being connected to a business plan can reduce the return on investment.

For example, an organization I was working with requested supervisory skills training.  When I asked about the issues they were trying to fix, they explained how supervisors were being stretched too thin, chasing quality issues, double checking paperwork and having to fill in for absent workers.  As I continued to ask questions and listen to the situation, it became clear that the training they were requesting was not going to fix their issues. Although the training would help supervisors better manage their time and communicate more efficiently, it would be akin to putting a Band-Aid on their particular “wound” and would not address the root cause issues. 

I pushed further and asked if they had a business plan outlined, but they admitted they had not had time to create one yet. Instead, using the Mission Statement written on the wall of their lobby as a guide, we went through the key components of their company: Customer Service, Quality, Engaged Workforce, Profitability.  As we talked about each of these elements, the leadership team admitted they were having issues in all of these areas but could not quantify the impact since they had not assigned metrics to measure success within each area.

After more discussion, it became clear that we would need to address the large-scale issues of culture, waste and quality systems if they wanted to make long-term improvements and achieve their mission. To accomplish this, we would need a strong strategic plan that would enable us to identify high-level issues, prioritize how to address them and establish metrics for success. After the strategic plan is in place, and only then, we could begin with tactical planning, such as laying out departmental plans or considering training. By starting at the most basic strategic level of the company, then creating business and tactical plans from there, we were able to identify more targeted and effective solutions to the root cause issues present in their company. When done in the proper order, such planning can be immensely valuable for driving your company’s high-level goals.

Plan Your Way to the Top
Embarking on the creation of a business plan can sound arduous, but it does not have to be.  There are many tools and templates that can help guide this process, as well as resources like The Center that can facilitate the process from start to finish. 

Many executives claim they do not have the time to sit down with their leadership team and develop a plan, but continued success is not random. It is worth the time invested as companies that continue to operate in a reactive mode with only short-term plans will consistently find themselves out-performed by those that embrace a proactive, thoughtful strategy.

Although it is easy to get caught up in day-to-day firefighting and forget about the importance of planning, it is clear that having a proactive strategy can serve the higher goals of your company, provide a better return on investment and establish more targeted problem solving. When used correctly, these tools can help your company become the Patriots of manufacturing. You might not make it into every Super Bowl, but you will be built to win.

Jamie Headley
Senior Business Solutions Manager

As Senior Business Solutions Manager, Jamie works as an advisor to Michigan manufacturers in the Southwest region of the state, helping them to “manufacture smarter.”  Jamie is a seasoned operations professional with expertise in change management, strategic planning, leadership, process improvement, lean implementations, cost containment and operational excellence. With more than 25 years of manufacturing and consulting experience, Jamie has served as Director of Supply Chain for Catalent Pharma Solutions, Vice President of Operations for and President and CEO of Dementia Services Group.  

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, February 9, 2018

Leaders in Lightweighting: What to Expect at the 2018 GALM Summit

By: Gregg Peterson

Looking to learn more about the latest innovations in lightweighting technologies? The upcoming
GALM Summit might be for you.

What is GALM?
Taking place February 21-22 in Detroit, the fifth annual Global Automotive Lightweight Manufacturing Summit will focus on discussing advanced joining, forming and manufacturing technologies in the transportation industry. This conference is a part of the Global Automotive Lightweight Materials (GALM) series of conferences, known as the world’s leading conferences on automotive lightweighting. Originally launched in London and Detroit in 2012, the GALM events bring together some of the world’s leading OEMs and automotive experts to share and explore the latest innovations in the industry.

This year’s event will be no different in terms of prestige and impact, but it will have a new approach to its theme. With an emphasis placed on new opportunities and applications for electric vehicle (EV) body structures, this conference will present solutions to the current joining and forming issues facing manufacturers.

The Future of Lightweighting
As lightweighting technology continues to impact and change vehicle production, it is now becoming a priority for all automotive manufacturers to discover and utilize the latest methods and technologies in using advanced lightweight materials, such as magnesium, aluminum, ultra-high strength steel and composites. Speakers at this conference will explore the latest opportunities for using lightweight materials on EV body structures, as well as discuss how EV body structures will influence current and future joining and manufacturing technologies.

The benefits of using lower density materials are still being discovered, but case studies of the past have demonstrated how lightweighting practices can help lighten structures, decrease the cost of materials involved, improve fuel efficiency, lower the carbon footprint and enhance vehicle performance. Conferences such as this help to give OEMs and suppliers more experience and confidence in using these materials and discover new ways to use them in traditional vehicles.

With a number of expert speakers from global OEMs, including GM, Ford, Karma Automotive and Faraday Future, anyone involved in the automotive industry can benefit from attending this year’s Global Automotive Lightweight Manufacturing Summit. Many Tier 1s and automotive OEMs are sponsoring this event, including our partner Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), making this a unique networking opportunity in addition to a technically informative event. I’ll be participating in a panel discussion at the conference, as well, to share my insights about the changes facing the transportation industry. Join me and more than 400 other experts in the industry at this exclusive, innovative event to catch up on the latest trends and practices in the lightweighting world.

To learn more about this event, or to register to attend, click here.

To learn more about the innovative lightweight vehicle frames being developed by The Center and LIFT, in concert with the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) and LIFT members including Detroit Engineered Products, Pennex Aluminum and Commander Innovations, click here.

Gregg Peterson
Principal Materials Engineer

As an accomplished engineer, inventor, mentor of emerging talent and successful entrepreneur, Gregg brings an impressive array of expertise and enthusiasm to every endeavor he pursues. In his current role as Principal Materials Engineer, Gregg works on-site at the Detroit headquarters of Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) as part of a program to propel the use of lightweight materials in manufacturing. Gregg’s OEM and Tier 1 automotive engineering experience spans more than 30 years and includes extensive ferrous and non-ferrous body structure design and innovation, aerodynamics, software controls, manufacturing/processing and more. Gregg also has more than 10 years of sales experience and substantial entrepreneurial involvement. 

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, February 2, 2018

Achieving Competency in Quality - Manufacturing's Got Talent!

By: Andy Nichols

Competency is all around us. It pervades our lives. We see competency on television, for example, in “America’s Got Talent.” Talented people, regardless of their age, gender or social background, performing all manner of stage acts that wow the show’s judges and viewers. We often ask ourselves, “How did they do that?”

We see competency in Quality as well. ISO 9001 includes a requirement for an organization’s people, specifically those involved in the Quality Management System, to be competent in their work responsibilities. The normative reference (vocabulary) document, ISO 9000, defines competence as “the demonstrated ability to apply skills and knowledge.” Those TV show contestants could certainly demonstrate skills and knowledge, but how did they become so competent? They aren’t likely to have been born with some “gift,” therefore, their performance is most likely the result of a combination of factors.

Practice, Practice, Practice…
 Zig Ziglar is credited with saying, “Repetition is the mother of learning, and the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.” Most of those performers would likely attribute their impressive abilities to a combination of three important sources: education (performance “theory”), training (master classes or similar) and practice, practice, practice. Competent performers can usually demonstrate a specific part of their act and describe the purpose for it, often including some portion of the related theory.

The same can be said for many work-related activities in manufacturing. A journeyman machining center setter, for example, would be able to demonstrate competencies in terms of:
  • Blueprint reading
  • Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T)
  • Machine feeds and speeds
  • Material properties
  • CNC programming

If we analyze these, we can see that some knowledge aspects are going to be based in education – for example, material properties which affect the way a part is machined, or CNC programming. Some knowledge aspects may be derived from training, such as from a classroom event and/or “on-the-job.” Furthermore, a significant proportion of competency is experiential – which comes from practice, practice, practice.

When an organization is determining competencies, it’s worth breaking down the required records into these three categories:
  • Education
  • Training
  • Experience

From here, creating some criteria against which a person can be evaluated for the job they do should be relatively straightforward. Keeping a record of these criteria and stating that they were successfully demonstrated will sufficiently meet the ISO 9001:2015 requirements stated in section 7.2.

Through this process, management must prepare themselves to discover that some employees may not be at the same level of competency they were assumed to have already reached. From Burch’s Learning Model of the 1970s, we can see there are four distinct stages of competency:
  • Unconscious Incompetence- the individual does not know how to do something, but is not aware of their lack of ability or denies it.
  • Conscious Incompetence- the individual does not know how to do something, but is aware of their inability.
  • Conscious Competence- the individual knows how to do something, but their performance requires concentration.
  • Unconscious Competence- the individual knows how to do something, and it can be performed easily without concentration.

These stages can be used to roughly measure and track an employee’s competency with certain topics and tasks. It’s important to recognize, however, that these stages are not concrete, and any changes made can affect the person such that they regress from unconscious competence right back to unconscious incompetence. After all, mastering this process, as well, takes practice, practice, practice.

Andy Nichols
Quality Program Manager

Andy has 40 years of expertise in a wide variety of roles and industries, with a focus on quality management systems in manufacturing organizations. In addition to his ISO 9000 Management Systems experience, he has worked extensively with ISO/TS16949, ISO/IEC 17024 and ISO/IEC 17025. His broad practical knowledge of ‘Quality Tools’ includes: SPC, FMEA, Quality Circles, Problem Solving, Internal Auditing and Process Mapping. He also has been an IRCA and RABQSA accredited Lead Auditor.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, January 26, 2018

Create Clear Company Visions through Cascading Policy Deployment

By: Chuck Werner

“Lost but making good time” is never a positive situation for an organization, despite its comedic origins. Unfortunately, companies of all sizes suffer the impacts of this condition. The team might be working hard on activities that will not drive the bottom line. Or, worse yet, working on the most important initiative within the company and not know it. Studies indicate that somewhere between 85 and 95% of employees have goals they are not aware of, do not understand or that are not aligned with the goals of their organization. These poorly identified goals can have negative impacts on performance at all levels of the business.

Foggy Visions: Disjointed Policy Deployment
At the individual level, workers might have expectations that conflict with the overall strategy of the organization, leading to dissatisfaction and turnover. A lack of goal alignment throughout the business can cause employees to perceive priorities from above as intruding upon their individual goals. These seemingly impeding priorities may be completely in line with the overall direction of the business, but individuals are unaware of this due to poor communication and skewed priorities.

Among departments, misaligned goals create divisiveness and resistance to working as a team. This occurs when each team or department comes up with their own definition of success, which might not all connect to the overall strategy of the company. This makes it difficult for team members to recognize the priority of an objective not set by their own group. Additionally, the teams move at a much slower pace as all decisions become centralized, deferring them to a supervisor or departmental manager for prioritization and authorization.

What happens at the company level? Simply put, the business does not execute its strategy, missing out on opportunities for profit, growth and success. There is a direct correlation between a company’s performance and an effective business policy deployment. Sometimes it really is about the destination. If you doubt that, try jumping in a taxi and giving the order to “just drive.” You either won’t get anywhere, or if you do, it won’t be where you wanted to go, and it will cost you a lot of money. The same holds true for a company. If an organization’s leaders are not clear about their vision, departmental managers will not understand their tasks and employees will have misplaced focus, so the company will not get where it wants to go.

Policy Must Cascade
For an individual to be effective, it is important that they understand their goals and objectives and know how their success will be measured. For an organization to be effective, it must establish a line of sight, where each team member is able to explain how their work is contributing to the vision and mission of the organization. When a line of sight exists, the organization can achieve a level of synchronicity, which allows each of the parts to operate in a more autonomous manner, assured that they are in line with the direction of the whole company.

The best way to achieve this synchronous operation is by using a cascading policy deployment. As the term “cascading” implies, each successive level of the policy deployment plan is created by better defining the level above it. This entire process involves a number of steps, including the creation of a vision, mission, strategy, objectives, goals and managing performance.

The deployment begins with creating a vision statement. There is some conjecture on whether vision or mission comes first, but think of it like this: the vision statement is what the organization desires as an end-state, while the mission statement addresses the question of how to get there. For example, if you were planning to go on a trip, you could not select the mode of travel until you have first chosen a destination.

Typically, the vision, mission and strategy are all determined by top management, or ownership, of the company. As the deployment progresses from strategy to objectives, other employees will need to be included in the process. Department managers or subject matter experts should be brought in as they can provide important details, such as specific activities to be involved and required levels of performance, as well as costs associated with achieving both.

Achieving Synchronicity: A Case Study
To better understand how this policy deployment is carried out, consider the following case: The new owner of a hotel determines their target market is tourists visiting the local area. With that in mind, her vision is for her business to be the pleasure traveler’s first choice in local hotels. The owner then meets with her leadership team to share her vision. At the meeting, the team creates their mission statement, which is to provide a drama-free experience so guests can enjoy a stress-free stay.

During business planning sessions, the managers work to define and measure “drama-free.” Drama, to them, translates to complaints. To analyze this, they have two sources of data available: internet commentaries on their website, and surveys collected from customers. They find that their historic rating average is 3.5 out of a possible score of 5. While this is better than the average, it is not sufficient to be the first choice of hotels. To be preferred, they need to be at least higher than the scores of their competitors. Benchmarking data shows a few of their competitors routinely score around a 4.0 rating. This shapes the hotel’s strategy.

In analyzing the customer satisfaction surveys to see what impacts responses, they discover a main contributor is rooms not being ready at check-in time. Meeting with the front desk, housekeeping and maintenance departments, the cross-functional group determines why rooms are not ready at check-in time. Based on data collected and knowledge of the team members, most occurrences of rooms not being ready occur at peak volume transitions going into the weekend. Although it is now up to the housekeeping department to improve this situation and achieve the objective, all departments are aware of its importance and understand they may need to subordinate their own goals or supply resources to ensure it is ultimately achieved.

The housekeeping manager now has responsibility for several activities. First, he needs to determine an acceptable amount of time in which to successfully prepare a room during peak transition times. In this case, the desired time is 20 minutes. A resource and budget plan must be established to ensure the objective can be met. Finally, a method of tracking the goal (metric) of time taken to clean a room must be implemented. Once these are all in place, the time to clean each room can be tracked, and barriers to meeting the goal can be identified and eliminated.

With cascading business policy deployment, the members of the housekeeping team now all understand that a room must be cleaned within 20 minutes. This ensures that all rooms are ready by check-in times. Customer satisfaction can then be maximized, ensuring a customer satisfaction score of above 4.0 and keeping the customer’s experience drama-free. This success will contribute to making their hotel the pleasure traveler’s first choice in local hotels, achieving their ultimate vision.

When mapped out, the entire process looks a little like this:

There are various methods of policy deployment used by companies today, with Hoshin-Kanri and True North probably being the two most famous examples. Whether you use these approaches, or simply follow a line-of-sight methodology, the benefits of using cascading policy deployment can be seen in all levels of a company. Whichever method you choose, alignment of purpose throughout the entire organization is key to making your vision a reality.

Chuck Werner
Lean Program Manager

Chuck has been a Lean Program Manager at The Center since 2016. His areas of expertise are in Lean, Six Sigma and Quality. Chuck has devoted many years to practicing Six Sigma methods, ultimately earning a Six Sigma Master Black Belt in 2011. He is passionate about helping small and medium-sized manufacturers become more prosperous using a variety of tools and methods gathered from over 27 years of experience. Additionally, Chuck is a certified ISO/QS9000 Lead Assessor, Training Within Industry (TWI) Master Trainer and is certified in OSHA Compliance and Accident Reduction.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, January 19, 2018

Project Management Issues? Your Scheduling May Be the Problem

By: Roger Tomlinson

Completing a project on time and on budget is not an easy task to accomplish. Although there are
many variables involved in this process, one way to ensure breezy project completion is to improve your project scheduling. How you choose to schedule your project plays a central role in predicting both the time and cost that will be involved in a project.

A number of techniques for approaching project scheduling have been developed to assist in planning, managing and controlling projects. Read on for two examples of proven methods that can help you better schedule and manage your next project.

Critical Path Method
One useful approach to managing your project schedule is the Critical Path Method (CPM), which maps out the activities within your projects, along with their respective durations, to help you understand how long your project will take. At the beginning of this process, a graph is created which gathers each activity that must be completed for the project, along with estimated duration for each and the order in which they must be completed. The graph will look similar to this:

Once your activities are laid out in this way, a diagram can be created which lays out all the activities involved. This includes the essential steps that must be completed, in order, before a project can be completed. For example, your diagram might look like this:

After each activity is put on the map, you can more easily see the paths involved in your project process. A path can be defined as a series of connected activities from the start to the end of the project. For example, the succession between numbers 1, 4, 8, 13, and 14 (End) is one path included in the map above. This will help with the next step of the CPM, where you create another graph which draws out the paths in order and includes the total duration for each. In this step you will discover the critical path. This will be the longest of all the durations in your project paths, which tells you the earliest possible day that your project can be finished. This graph will look like this:

In completing this process, you can better visualize how long each step of your project will take and will be able to predict when your project should be finished.

Program Evaluation and Review Technique
Another technique for project scheduling, commonly used in conjunction with the CPM, is the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT). This tool can be used to construct a schedule when you are not sure if you will have the resources necessary to complete a task, or if you are unsure of how long it will take to complete a certain task.

Due to the uncertainty involved, this technique requires duration estimates for each individual activity:

  • Optimistic time estimate (To): This is the shortest possible time in which the activity can be completed, and assumes that everything must occur perfectly.
  • Realistic time estimate (Tm): This is the most likely time in which the activity can be completed under normal circumstances.
  • Pessimistic time estimate (Tp): This is the longest possible time the activity might need, assuming a worst-case scenario.
  • Expected time estimate (Te): This is the best estimate of time required to complete an activity, acknowledging that things do not always proceed as expected.

These numbers can be found by using the following equation:

When using this method, it can be helpful to use the same graphs and maps as included in the CPM. To demonstrate, your initial graph of activities may look like this:

Next, your diagram of paths and durations would look like this:

Once this is created, your last graph can be drawn out, which includes each path involved in the project and its estimated duration. This also is where you discover your critical path, or estimated time of project completion. For this example, it would look like this:

By completing the steps involved in the PERT, you will be able to better estimate the total duration of your project, even if there are uncertain variables involved. This tool enables you to have a greater understanding of when your project should be completed, making for a more efficient and predictable project process.

Scheduling your project effectively is one of the most important elements of project managing. Each of these methods can help you to better manage the planning, time and money involved in any project you take on. While there is no fool-proof way of ensuring your project is completed effectively, gaining a better handle on scheduling is one huge step that can get you closer to success.

Roger Tomlinson
Lean Program Manager

Roger has been a Program Manager in The Center’s Lean Business Solutions program for 18 years. He has trained and mentored hundreds of Michigan manufacturers in the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methods (e.g., Kaizen events, Standardized Work, 5S/Workplace Organization, Value Stream Mapping, Total Productive Maintenance, Culture Change, Team Building, operations management and process re-engineering). In addition to his training and consulting work, Roger has over 20 years of experience in manufacturing management.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, January 12, 2018

Revised NIST Standard Might Impact Your Compliance

By: Elliot Forsyth

The information security standard set forth by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), known as NIST SP 800-171, has experienced multiple revisions since its original publication in June 2015. Following these changes, many individuals are left wondering where their company stands with compliance and what steps they must take next. The following brief history and explanation of NIST 800-171 is meant to clarify these and other questions about the standard.

In August of 2015, the Department of Defense (DoD) added an interim rule to the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) which required all relevant companies with government contracts to comply with NIST 800-171 under clause 252.204-7008 and 252.204-7012. The original NIST 800-171 publication contained 109 controls that contractors had to comply with for all systems that contained Covered Defense Information (CDI), which includes Unclassified Controlled Technical Information (UCTI) and other categories of non-classified information that require special handling.

Since its release, NIST 800-171 has been superseded by NIST 800-171 Revision 1, published in December 2016 and further updated in November 2017. Among terminology changes, Revision 1 also included the addition of a new control (now 110 in total), as well as specific requirements for how a company can reach compliance. These requirements include the completion of an assessment of cybersecurity compliance, a System Security Plan (SSP), a Plan of Action and Milestones (PoAM) and an Incident Response Plan (IRP).

On September 21, 2017, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense released a memorandum which stated that, under the DFARS clause, contractors must implement the version of the standard that was in effect at the time of contract award. Meaning, if a company signed a contract after Rev. 1 was in effect, they will follow the updated guidelines. If a company signed a contract before Rev. 1 was in effect, they may choose to leave their contract as it is or work to have their contract revised. Contractors then must work with contracting officers to modify their contracts to authorize use of the most recent version of 800-171.

To help with these contract modifications, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense released a second memorandum on December 15, 2017 which requested that contracting officers handle contract revisions via the mass modification system. This system automates contract revisions electronically, making modifications simpler to identify and accomplish.

To put it briefly, as it stands now, all companies who have contracts containing DFARS clauses 252.204-7008 or 252.204-7012 and handle CUI should know the following information about the standard:

  • Contractors are bound to the version of NIST 800-171 that was published at the time of contract signage. However, without contract modification, they are potentially not protected or compliant based on current revisions.
  • Contracts signed under the original NIST 800-171 standard cannot necessarily consider completion of an SSP and PoAM as proof of compliance, as these documents were not listed as requirements in their contract. Contracts must first be modified in order to use these documents as proof of compliance.
  • Contractors can solicit their contract officers to have their contracts modified to include the latest version of 800-171, which will most likely be handled through the mass modification system.

The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (The Center) is available to assist companies who need to create and implement an SSP and PoAM. Learn more about how The Center can help your company reach compliance here.

The recent December memorandum, along with the September 2017 memorandum, can be found here.

Elliot Forsyth
Vice President of Business Operations

Elliot is Vice President of Business Operations at The Center, where he is responsible for leading practice areas that include cybersecurity, technology acceleration, marketing, market research and business development. Over the past two years, Elliot has led The Center's effort to develop a state-of-the-art cybersecurity service for companies in the defense, aerospace and automotive industries, supporting Michigan companies in safeguarding their businesses and maintaining regulatory compliance. 

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, January 5, 2018

Disengaged Employees? This Post Is for You

By: Mike Beels

Most organizations now know the importance of having an engaged workforce, largely due to the undeniable link between engagement and profitability. Workforce engagement can be described as a combination of commitment to the organization and its values and a willingness to help colleagues. Essentially, it is interpreted as the execution of discretionary effort. Engagement is something the employee has to offer to the employer; it cannot be taught and it cannot be required. Casual observation will not necessarily detect a disengaged employee. Instead, thorough analyzations are required to effectively measure workforce engagement.

More and more companies are beginning to invest in efforts to track, measure and ultimately increase engagement in order to improve business results. Gallup is one organization that has collected a great deal of information on the subject. When researching sources of engagement and disengagement in the workplace, they found fundamental needs that all employees share. Below I have listed those needs, separated into categories of Basic Needs, Individual Needs, Teamwork Needs and Growth Needs, as well as Gallup’s suggested approaches for how to tackle each problem.

Basic Needs:
  • Focus Me: Employees need to know how their tasks or expectations fit with the company’s vision. Ensuring workers have clear goals and responsibilities will enable them to commit, deliver and focus on what matters most.
  • Free Me from Unnecessary Stress: Give workers the resources necessary, such as materials, equipment and information, to reach the outcomes they are attempting to achieve. Show them someone understands their individual needs by proactively seeking and positioning the right resources accordingly.

Individual Needs:
  • Know Me: Team members want to maximize their contributions. Focus on how employees are internally motivated and find activities in which they are most naturally gifted. This will lead to a boost in morale and confidence that will manifest itself in business results.
  • Help Me See My Value: Best efforts should be acknowledged and valued. Offering
    recognition that is authentic and meaningful shows workers they belong to a team where recognizing others is encouraged.
  • Care About Me: Employees should know they are more than just a number. Demonstrate concern and show personal interest in all employees, treating them as people first and employees second.
  • Support My Growth: Employees might need assistance with navigating their career paths. As they search for the right role for them, they want to know there is someone encouraging them to grow and develop, helping to push them beyond their current thinking. 

Teamwork Needs:
  • Hear Me: Regardless of industry, all employees want to feel valued. Making a significant contribution to the work environment is a main area of concern for many workers. This can bring workers closer together, as well as reinforce self-worth.
  • Give Me a Sense of Importance: Excellent performance occurs when people are deeply attached to a sense of purpose in their lives. If employees feel that their job is important, they will want to do more.
  • Help Me Feel Proud: Although adherence to standards cannot be forced, employees need to know that their colleagues are committed to producing quality work. Open and honest communication is a necessity, along with understanding and respect for each other’s efforts.
  • Build Mutual Trust with Me: Friendship is the gateway to building mutual trust, and it creates opportunities for collaboration and teamwork. When employees have trusted relationships at work, their lives become richer and productivity increases.

Growth Needs:
  • Review My Contributions: Employees want to know how they are doing, how their work is being perceived and where their work is heading. Management should meet with employees to identify tasks that align with workers’ skillsets and create a development plan that supports each individual’s full learning potential. This enables employees to maximize their contributions to the organization.
  • Challenge Me: The need to learn and grow is a natural human instinct. One way that employees can accomplish this is to find more efficient ways of completing their tasks. The best teams are never satisfied with the current way of doing things; they always strive to find better, more efficient ways to work.

Workforce engagement is an often forgotten or ignored piece of a business’ success. Unfortunately, this can be especially detrimental for manufacturers, as the industry reportedly has the lowest workforce engagement levels. With only 20 to 25% of workers engaged, it is more important than ever for manufacturers to invest in improving engagement. In doing so, employees will become more motivated and focused, leading to better results than ever before.

Mike Beels
Lean Program Manager

Mike Beels has served in the role of Lean Program Manager for the Lean Business Solutions Team at The Center for more than 12 years. Mike’s areas of expertise include Change Leadership, Workforce Engagement and Succession Planning, as well as the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methodologies. He is a professional trainer and has the ability to command an audience and deliver the training message in a way that participants can understand in a clear, non-threatening manner. Mike always leaves trainees excited and ready to complete training transfer to the shop floor or office. 

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at